Nanotechnology and luxury watches: an innovative Australian partnership

10 Nov 2016

Author: Myles Gough

Photography:

Video:

In 2015, Bausele became the first Australian luxury watch brand to be invited to Baselworld in Switzerland – the world’s largest and most prestigious luxury watch and jewellery expo. Its success is, in part, thanks to a partnership with nanotechnologists at Flinders University and a unique new material called Bauselite.
Tags 
  1. Category
  2. Class Styles - Category
  3. technology-style
  4. Technology
Creative CommonsWe’d love you to share this content
Founded by Swiss-born Sydneysider Christophe Hoppe, Bausele Australia bills itself as the first “Swiss-made, Australian-designed” watch company. 

The name is an acronym for Beyond Australian Elements. Each watch has part of the Australian landscape embedded in its crown, or manual winding mechanism, such as red earth from the outback, beach sand or bits of opal. 

But what makes the luxury watches unique is an innovative material called Bauselite developed in partnership with Flinders University’s Centre of NanoScale Science and Technology in Adelaide. An advanced ceramic nanotechnology, Bauselite is featured in Bausele’s Terra Australis watch, enabling design elements not found in its competitors.  

Christophe Hoppe (Centre) with the Flinders University research team in their lab in Adelaide. Prof. David Lewis on far Left, Dr Jon Campbell next to him, and Dr Andrew Block on far right.  Credit: Flinders University, supplied by Christophe Hoppe

Christophe Hoppe with the Flinders University research team in their lab in Adelaide. Prof. David Lewis on far Left, Dr Jon Campbell next to him, and Dr Andrew Block on far right. Credit: Flinders University.  

NanoConnect program fosters industry partnership

Flinders University coordinates NanoConnect, a collaborative research program supported by the South Australian Government, which provides a low-risk pathway for companies to access university equipment and expertise. 

It was through this program that Hoppe met nanotechnologist Professor David Lewis, and his colleagues Dr Jonathan Campbell and Dr Andrew Block. 

“There were a lot of high IQs around that table, except for me,” jokes Hoppe about their first meeting. 


After some preliminary discussions, the Flinders team set about researching the luxury watch industry and identified several areas for innovation. The one they focused on with Hoppe was around the manufacture of casings.  

Apart from the face, the case is the most prominent feature on a watch head: it needs to be visually appealing but also lightweight and strong, says Hoppe, who is also Bausele’s chief designer.

The researchers suggested ceramics might be suitable. Conventional ceramics require casting, where a powder slurry is injected into a mould and heated in an oven. The process is suitable for high-volume manufacturing, but the end product is often hampered by small imperfections or deformities. This can cause components to break, resulting in wasted material, time and money. It can also make the material incompatible with complex designs, such as those featured in the Terra Australis.  

New material offers ‘competitive edge’ 

Using a new technique, the Flinders team invented a unique, lightweight ceramic-like material that can be produced in small batches via a non-casting process, which helps eliminate defects found in conventional ceramics. They named the high-performance material Bauselite.  

“Bauselite is strong, very light and, because of the way it is made, avoids many of the traps common with conventional ceramics,” explains Professor Lewis. 

The new material allows holes to be drilled more precisely, which is an important feature in watchmaking. “It means we can make bolder, more adventurous designs, which can give us a competitive advantage,” Hoppe says. 

Bauselite can also be tailored to meet specific colour, shape and texture requirements. “This is a major selling point,” Hoppe says. “Watch cases usually have a shiny, stainless steel-like finish, but the Bauselite looks like a dark textured rock.” 

Bauselite made its luxury watch debut in Bausele’s Terra Australis range. The ceramic nanotechnology and the watch captured the attention of several established brands when it was featured at Baselworld. 

Christophe Hoppe with his new Bauselite watch casing. Credit: Flinders University/Bausele

Christophe Hoppe with his new Bauselite watch casing Credit: Flinders University/Bausele.  

Advanced manufacturing hub in Australia 

Hoppe and the Flinders University team are currently working on the development of new materials and features. 

Together they have established a joint venture company called Australian Advanced Manufacturing to manufacture bauselite.  A range of other precision watch components could be in the pipeline.   

The team hopes to become a ‘centre of excellence’ for watchmaking in Australia, supplying components to international luxury watchmaking brands. 

But the priority is for the advanced manufacturing hub to begin making Bausele watches onshore: “I’ve seen what Europe is good at when it comes to creating luxury goods, and what makes it really special is when people control the whole process from beginning to end,” says Hoppe. “This is what we want to do. We’ll start with one component now, but we’ll begin to manufacture others.”

Hoppe hopes the hub will be a place where students can develop similar, high-performance materials, which could find applications across a range of industries, from aerospace to medicine for bone and joint reconstructions.